четверг, 21 февраля 2019 г.

2019 February 21 Reflections on vdB 9 Image Credit &…

2019 February 21

Reflections on vdB 9
Image Credit & Copyright: Guenter Kerschhuber

Explanation: Centered in a well-composed celestial still life, pretty, blue vdB 9 is the 9th object in Sidney van den Bergh’s 1966 catalog of reflection nebulae. It shares this telescopic field of view, about twice the size of a full moon on the sky, with stars and dark, obscuring dust clouds in the northerly constellation Cassiopeia. Cosmic dust is preferentially reflecting blue starlight from embedded, hot star SU Cassiopeiae, giving vdB 9 the characteristic bluish tint associated with a classical reflection nebula. SU Cas is a Cepheid variable star, though even at its brightest it is just too faint to be seen with the unaided eye. Still Cepheids play an important role in determining distances in our galaxy and beyond. At the star’s well-known distance of 1,540 light-years, this cosmic canvas would be about 24 light-years across.

∞ Source: apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap190221.html

Following the TracksDust devils on Mars often create long, dark…

Following the Tracks

Dust devils on Mars often create long, dark markings where they pull a thin coat of dust off the surface. This image shows a cluster of these tracks on the flat ground below the south polar layered deposits, but none on the layers themselves.

This tells us that either dust devils do not cross the layers, or they do not leave a track there. There are several possible reasons for this. For instance, the dust might be thick enough that the vortex of the dust devil doesn’t expose darker material from underneath the surface.

NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

In Colliding Galaxies, a Pipsqueak Shines Bright

Bright green sources of high-energy X-ray light captured by NASA’s NuSTAR mission are overlaid on an optical-light image of the Whirlpool galaxy (in the center of the image) and its companion galaxy, M51b (the bright greenish-white spot above the Whirlpool), taken by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech, IPAC.  › Larger view

In the nearby Whirlpool galaxy and its companion galaxy, M51b, two supermassive black holes heat up and devour surrounding material. These two monsters should be the most luminous X-ray sources in sight, but a new study using observations from NASA’s NuSTAR(Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array) mission shows that a much smaller object is competing with the two behemoths.

The most stunning features of the Whirlpool galaxy – officially known as M51a – are the two long, star-filled “arms” curling around the galactic center like ribbons. The much smaller M51b clings like a barnacle to the edge of the Whirlpool. Collectively known as M51, the two galaxies are merging. 

At the center of each galaxy is a supermassive black hole millions of times more massive than the Sun. The galactic merger should push huge amounts of gas and dust into those black holes and into orbit around them. In turn, the intense gravity of the black holes should cause that orbiting material to heat up and radiate, forming bright disks around each that can outshine all the stars in their galaxies. 

But neither black hole is radiating as brightly in the X-ray range as scientists would expect during a merger. Based on earlier observations from satellites that detect low-energy X-rays, such as NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, scientists believed that layers of gas and dust around the black hole in the larger galaxy were blocking extra emission. But the new study, published in the Astrophysical Journal, used NuSTAR’s high-energy X-ray vision to peer below those layers and found that the black hole is still dimmer than expected. 

“I’m still surprised by this finding,” said study lead author Murray Brightman, a researcher at Caltech in Pasadena, California. “Galactic mergers are supposed to generate black hole growth, and the evidence of that would be strong emission of high-energy X-rays. But we’re not seeing that here.”

Brightman thinks the most likely explanation is that black holes “flicker” during galactic mergers rather than radiate with a more or less constant brightness throughout the process. 

“The flickering hypothesis is a new idea in the field,” said Daniel Stern, a research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena and the project scientist for NuSTAR. “We used to think that the black hole variability occurred on timescales of millions of years, but now we’re thinking those timescales could be much shorter. Figuring out how short is an area of active study.”

Small but  Brilliant

Along with the two black holes radiating less than scientists anticipated in M51a and M51b, the former also hosts an object that is millions of times smaller than either black hole yet is shining with equal intensity. The two phenomena are not connected, but they do create a surprising X-ray landscape in M51. 

The small X-ray source is a neutron star, an incredibly dense nugget of material left over after a massive star explodes at the end of its life. A typical neutron star is hundreds of thousands of times smaller in diameter than the Sun – only as wide as a large city – yet has one to two times the mass. A teaspoon of neutron star material would weigh more than 1 billion tons. 

Despite their size, neutron stars often make themselves known through intense light emissions. The neutron star found in M51 is even brighter than average and belongs to a newly discovered class known as ultraluminous neutron stars. Brightman said some scientists have proposed that strong magnetic fields generated by the neutron star could be responsible for the luminous emission; a previous paper by Brightman and colleagues about this neutron star supports that hypothesis. Some of the other bright, high-energy X-ray sources seen in these two galaxies could also be neutron stars. 

NuSTAR is a Small Explorer mission led by Caltech and managed by JPL for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. NuSTAR was developed in partnership with the Danish Technical University and the Italian Space Agency (ASI). The spacecraft was built by Orbital Sciences Corporation in Dulles, Virginia (now part of Northrop Grumman). NuSTAR’s mission operations center is at UC Berkeley, and the official data archive is at NASA’s High Energy Astrophysics Science Archive Research Center. ASI provides the mission’s ground station and a mirror archive. Caltech manages JPL for NASA

News Media Contact

Calla Cofield
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.


Source: NuSTAR/News

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Hubble helps uncover origin of Neptune’s smallest moon Hippocamp

ESA – Hubble Space Telescope logo.

20 February 2019

Neptune and its smallest moon Hippocamp (artist’s impression)

Astronomers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, along with older data from the Voyager 2 probe, have revealed more about the origin of Neptune’s smallest moon. The moon, which was discovered in 2013 and has now received the official name Hippocamp, is believed to be a fragment of its larger neighbour Proteus.

A team of astronomers, led by Mark Showalter of the SETI Institute, have used the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope to study the origin of the smallest known moon orbiting the planet Neptune, discovered in 2013.

Hubble data showing Neptune’s inner moons

“The first thing we realised was that you wouldn’t expect to find such a tiny moon right next to Neptune’s biggest inner moon,” said Mark Showalter. The tiny moon, with an estimated diameter of only about 34 km, was named Hippocamp and is likely to be a fragment from Proteus, Neptune’s second-largest moon and the outermost of the inner moons. Hippocamp, formerly known as S/2004 N 1, is named after the sea creatures of the same name from Greek and Roman mythology [1].

The orbits of Proteus and its tiny neighbour are incredibly close, at only 12 000 km apart. Ordinarily, if two satellites of such different sizes coexisted in such close proximity, either the larger would have  kicked the smaller out of orbit or the smaller would crash into the larger one.

Orbits of Neptune’s inner moons

Instead, it appears that billions of years ago a comet collision chipped off a chunk of Proteus. Images from the Voyager 2 probe from 1989 show a large impact crater on Proteus, almost large enough to have shattered the moon. “In 1989, we thought the crater was the end of the story,” said Showalter. “With Hubble, now we know that a little piece of Proteus got left behind and we see it today as Hippocamp.”

Hippocamp is only the most recent result of the turbulent and violent history of Neptune’s satellite system. Proteus itself formed billions of years ago after a cataclysmic event involving Neptune’s satellites. The planet captured an enormous body from the Kuiper belt, now known to be Neptune’s largest moon, Triton. The sudden presence of such a massive object in orbit tore apart all the other satellites in orbit at that time. The debris from shattered moons re-coalesced into the second generation of natural satellites that we see today.

Animation of Neptune’s moon Hippocamp

Later bombardment by comets led to the birth of Hippocamp, which can therefore be considered a third-generation satellite. “Based on estimates of comet populations, we know that other moons in the outer Solar System have been hit by comets, smashed apart, and re-accreted multiple times,” noted Jack Lissauer of NASA’s Ames Research Center, California, USA, a coauthor of the new research. “This pair of satellites provides a dramatic illustration that moons are sometimes broken apart by comets.”


[1] The mythological Hippocampus possesses the upper body of a horse and the lower body of a fish. The Roman god Neptune would drive a sea-chariot pulled by Hippocampi. The name Hippocamp was approved by the International Astronomical Union (IAU). The rules of the International Astronomical Union require that the moons of Neptune are named after Greek and Roman mythology of the undersea world.

More information:

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between ESA and NASA.

The team of astronomers in this study consists of M. R. Showalter (SETI Institute, Mountain View, USA), I. de Pater (Department of Astronomy, University of California, Berkeley, USA), J. J. Lissauer (NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, USA), and R. S. French (SETI Institute, Mountain View, USA).


Images of Hubble: http://www.spacetelescope.org/images/archive/category/spacecraft/

Hubblesite release: http://hubblesite.org/news_release/news/2019-04

Science paper: http://www.spacetelescope.org/static/archives/releases/science_papers/heic1904/heic1904a.pdf

NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope (HST): http://spacetelescope.org/

Images, Video, Text, credits: ESA/Mathias Jäger/Hubble, NASA, L. Calçada, A. Feild, M. Showalter et al./SETI Institute.

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Astronauts Focus on Spacesuits, High-Temp Physics and Storm Photography

ISS – Expedition 58 Mission patch.

February 20, 2019

Spacesuit servicing and high-temperature physics kept the crew busy today aboard the International Space Station. The Expedition 58 astronauts also researched meteorology from the station and explored more Earth phenomena from space.

Astronaut David Saint-Jacques is returning a U.S. spacesuit to service today inside the U.S. Quest airlock. He verified successful installation of suit components and checked for water leaks in the suit at full operational pressure. NASA is planning a set of maintenance spacewalks at the station planned for March 22, 29, and April 8.

Image above: Lake Superior and Lake Michigan is surrounded by the cloudy and frozen terrain of the North American continent. Image Credit: NASA.

In the Kibo lab module from Japan, astronaut Anne McClain cleaned sample cartridges in a specialized thermo-physical research device called the Electrostatic Levitation Furnace. The high-temperature facility levitates, solidifies and melts samples that may contribute to the synthesis of new materials difficult to achieve on Earth.

She later set up camera hardware for the Tropical Cyclone experiment to demonstrate storm predictions from the station. McClain targeted a moonlit Typhoon Oma today off the coast of Queensland, Australia from inside the cupola.

Commander Oleg Kononenko worked on a suite of science experiments Wednesday in the Russian segment of the station. The veteran cosmonaut photographed terrestrial landmarks to document forest conditions and the effects of natural and man-made disasters. He also studied how space impacts the cardiovascular system and the piloting skills of a cosmonaut.

Image above: Flying over Seattle (USA), seen by EarthCam on ISS, speed: 27’619 Km/h, altitude: 410,43 Km, image captured by Roland Berga (on Earth in Switzerland) from International Space Station (ISS) using ISS-HD Live application with EarthCam’s from ISS on February 20, 2019 at 20:41 UTC. Image Credits: Orbiter.ch Aerospace/Roland Berga.

Back on Earth, three Expedition 59 crew members are preparing for their March 14 launch to the orbital lab aboard the Soyuz MS-12 crew ship. Commander Alexey Ovchinin and Flight Engineers Nick Hague and Christina Koch are in Star City, Russia for final training before heading to the Baikonur Cosmodrome launch site in Kazakhstan on Feb. 26.

Related links:

Expedition 58: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/expeditions/expedition58/index.html

Quest airlock: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/structure/elements/joint-quest-airlock

Spacewalks: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/spacewalks

Kibo lab module: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/structure/elements/japan-kibo-laboratory

Electrostatic Levitation Furnace: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Facility.html?#id=1536

Tropical Cyclone: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/explorer/Investigation.html?#id=1712

Forest conditions: https://www.energia.ru/en/iss/researches/study/13.html

Natural and man-made disasters: https://www.energia.ru/en/iss/researches/study/09.html

Piloting skills: https://www.energia.ru/en/iss/researches/human/24.html

Space Station Research and Technology: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/index.html

International Space Station (ISS): https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/index.html

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Mark Garcia/Orbiter.ch Aerospace/Roland Berga.

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Calcite on Conichalcite | #Geology #GeologyPage…

Calcite on Conichalcite | #Geology #GeologyPage #Mineral

Locality: Tsumeb Mine, Tsumeb, Oshikoto Region (Otjikoto Region), Namibia

Dimensions: 12.2 × 8.5 × 6.4 cm

Photo Copyright © Crystal Classics

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Agatized Cerithium sp. | #Geology #GeologyPage…

Agatized Cerithium sp. | #Geology #GeologyPage #Fossil

Locality: Assa, Morocco

Size : 4,8 x 2,6 x 2,7 cm

Photo Copyright © Le Comptoir Géologique

Geology Page



Dolomite | #Geology #GeologyPage #Mineral Locality: Cantera…

Dolomite | #Geology #GeologyPage #Mineral

Locality: Cantera Azkarate, Eugui, Navarra, Espagne

Size : 3,0 x 2,6 x 2,1 cm

Photo Copyright © Le Comptoir Géologique

Geology Page



Azurite | #Geology #GeologyPage #Mineral Locality: Bou Beker…

Azurite | #Geology #GeologyPage #Mineral

Locality: Bou Beker Dist., Jerada Province, Oriental Region, Morocco

Size : 4,5 x 2,2 x 2,0 cm

Photo Copyright © Le Comptoir Géologique

Geology Page



Breath of Life Talented sports people are sometimes…

Breath of Life

Talented sports people are sometimes ineffective until a great coach provides clear instructions that get the most out of them. And like promising but unguided prodigies, our body’s cells often have great capacity for healing illnesses in the body, but lack the proper motivation to do so. Messenger RNA (mRNA) is a molecule that can induce cells to take particular actions, so holds promise for treating many diseases and exploiting our cells’ full potential, but it’s not easy to get it to the right place. Now researchers have created an inhalable form of mRNA, that could lead to new treatments for lung diseases such as cancer or cystic fibrosis. They successfully made mouse lung cells produce a green protein (pictured) after inhaling particles (yellow). If they can also prompt the production of therapeutic proteins, our own lung cells could become drug factories, producing an antidote right where it’s needed most.

Written by Anthony Lewis

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Close encounters: planning for extra Hera flyby

ESA – European Space Agency patch.

20 February 2019

ESA’s proposed Hera mission will already visit two asteroids: the Didymos binary pair. The Hera team hopes to boost that number by performing a flyby of another asteroid during the mission’s three-year flight.


The opportunity arises because Hera will be flying out to match Didymos’ 770-day orbit, which circles from less than 10 million km from Earth to out beyond Mars, at more than double Earth’s distance from the Sun.

In the process Hera will pass both multiple near-Earth asteroids and the inner edge of the main Asteroid Belt. Initial studies at ESA’s European Space Operations Centre have turned up dozens of candidate asteroids across different mission scenarios.

Didymos orbit

“Ideally we would like a flyby of another binary asteroid, to enable comparisons with Didymos,” explains ESA’s Hera project scientist, Michael Küppers.

“We would choose something of a different taxonomic type from the S-type asteroids like Didymos. We would also prefer a larger object: its greater size would allow us to resolve it meaningfully from further away.”

Take as an example one body researchers would like to see: the 2121 Sevastopol binary pair in the inner belt has an 8.6 km diameter main body with a 3.5 km diameter moon.

Asteroids in the Solar System

This system is a member of the poorly understood ‘Flora’ family of main belt stony asteroids, produced by a collision event a relatively recent 100 million years ago – theorised to be associated with the Chicxulub impact that killed the dinosaurs.

The next step would be to create a shortlist of targets, which could then be the subject of ground-based observations to determine more about their properties and sharpen knowledge of their orbits before Hera’s launch in late 2023.

ESA’s Rosetta comet-chaser performed two asteroid flybys as it passed through the main belt during its decade-long flight to comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, passing the 5-km diameter diamond-shaped 2867 Šteins and the mammoth 120-km diameter 21 Lutetia.

European Space Operations Centre

“To make flybys happen, we have to know where our trajectory will pass relatively close to asteroids if we do nothing,” notes Michael Khan, heading Mission Analysis at ESA’s Flight Dynamics division. “Then we tweak the trajectory to make a specific difference to that distance, bringing us much closer.

“With Rosetta we had a lot of capability, because it was a large spacecraft with extra fuel in in the tanks to get the mission back on track in case something went wrong. Plus we were performing lots of gravity-assist flybys around Earth and Mars, and massaging those flybys slightly gave us a lot of freedom to manoeuvre.

Šteins asteroid

“Hera is not Rosetta, however: this will be a smaller mission with a shorter cruise phase and lower performance limits. We will still try, but the constraints are such that we won’t know for certain which asteroids we could target until after Hera’s launch. It will come down to what day within Hera’s launch window that we take off, and also the precision of that take-off – it is possible that any extra fuel earmarked for asteroid flybys might be needed to fine-tune our trajectory to Didymos. But any flyby would be an excellent opportunity to boost Hera’s science return even further.””

To compare the two missions, Rosetta was lorry-sized, while Hera will be the scale of a desk. But any asteroid flyby would benefit its end mission as well as offering plentiful bonus science.

Lutetia asteroid

Michael Küppers was also part of the Rosetta team: “These hours-long asteroid flybys were quite dramatic events, and our opportunity to try out our scientific instruments and obtain scientific results from these unknown objects, preparing for our main goal of 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko.”

Hera mission

Hera’s lead scientist Patrick Michel, CNRS Director of Research of France’s Côte d’Azur Observatory, hopes Hera would indeed achieve a flyby: “Any object would be valuable. Each time we’ve encountered a new asteroid we’ve discovered something unexpected.”

Hera, Europe’s contribution to an international planetary defence experiment, is currently under study to be presented for approval by ESA’s Space19+ Council meeting of European space ministers.

Related links:

International planetary defence experiment: http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Engineering_Technology/Hera/Asteroid_Impact_Deflection_Assessment_AIDA_mission

Hera mission: http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Engineering_Technology/Hera

ESOC – European Space Operations Centre: http://www.esa.int/About_Us/ESOC

Flight Dynamics: http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Operations/gse/Flight_Dynamics

ESA’s comet chaser Rosetta: http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Science/Rosetta

DART website: http://dart.jhuapl.edu/

Hera: http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Engineering_Technology/Hera

Images, Video, Text, Credits: ESA/D.Scuka/Science Office/NASA/Paul Chodas/JPL/OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/RSSD/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA.

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Earth’s atmosphere stretches out to the Moon – and beyond

NASA & ESA – SOHO Mission patch.

20 February 2019

The outermost part of our planet’s atmosphere extends well beyond the lunar orbit – almost twice the distance to the Moon.

A recent discovery based on observations by the ESA/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, SOHO, shows that the gaseous layer that wraps around Earth reaches up to 630 000 km away, or 50 times the diameter of our planet.

Earth’s geocorona

“The Moon flies through Earth’s atmosphere,” says Igor Baliukin of Russia’s Space Research Institute, lead author of the paper presenting the results.

“We were not aware of it until we dusted off observations made over two decades ago by the SOHO spacecraft.”

Where our atmosphere merges into outer space, there is a cloud of hydrogen atoms called the geocorona. One of the spacecraft instruments, SWAN, used its sensitive sensors to trace the hydrogen signature and precisely detect how far the very outskirts of the geocorona are.

These observations could be done only at certain times of the year, when the Earth and its geocorona came into view for SWAN.

For planets with hydrogen in their exospheres, water vapour is often seen closer to their surface. That is the case for Earth, Mars and Venus.

“This is especially interesting when looking for planets with potential reservoirs of water beyond our Solar System,” explains Jean-Loup Bertaux, co-author and former principal investigator of SWAN.

Geocorona from the Moon

The first telescope on the Moon, placed by Apollo 16 astronauts in 1972, captured an evocative image of the geocorona surrounding Earth and glowing brightly in ultraviolet light.

“At that time, the astronauts on the lunar surface did not know that they were actually embedded in the outskirts of the geocorona,” says Jean-Loup.

Cloud of hydrogen

The Sun interacts with hydrogen atoms through a particular wavelength of ultraviolet light called Lyman-alpha, which the atoms can both absorb and emit. Since this type of light is absorbed by Earth’s atmosphere, it can only be observed from space.

Thanks to its hydrogen absorption cell, the SWAN instrument could selectively measure the Lyman-alpha light from the geocorona and discard hydrogen atoms further out in interplanetary space.

The new study revealed that sunlight compresses hydrogen atoms in the geocorona on Earth’s dayside, and also produces a region of enhanced density on the night side. The denser dayside region of hydrogen is still rather sparse, with just 70 atoms per cubic centimeter at 60 000 kilometers above Earth’s surface, and about 0.2 atoms at the Moon’s distance.

“On Earth we would call it vacuum, so this extra source of hydrogen is not significant enough to facilitate space exploration,” says Igor.

SOHO observation of the geocorona

The good news is that these particles do not pose any threat for space travelers on future crewed missions orbiting the Moon.

“There is also ultraviolet radiation associated to the geocorona, as the hydrogen atoms scatter sunlight in all directions, but the impact on astronauts in lunar orbit would be negligible compared to the main source of radiation – the Sun,” says Jean-Loup Bertaux.

On the down side, the Earth’s geocorona could interfere with future astronomical observations performed in the vicinity of the Moon.

“Space telescopes observing the sky in ultraviolet wavelengths to study the chemical composition of stars and galaxies would need to take this into account,” adds Jean-Loup.

The power of archives

Launched in December 1995, the SOHO space observatory has been studying the Sun, from its deep core to the outer corona and the solar wind, for over two decades. The satellite orbits around the first Lagrange point (L1), some 1.5 million kilometres from Earth towards the Sun.

This location is a good vantage point to observe the geocorona from outside. SOHO’s SWAN instrument imaged Earth and its extended atmosphere on three occasions between 1996 and 1998.


Jean-Loup and Igor’s research team in Russia decided to retrieve this data set from the archives for further analysis. These unique views of the whole geocorona as seen from SOHO are now shedding new light on Earth’s atmosphere.

“Data archived many years ago can often be exploited for new science,” says Bernhard Fleck, ESA SOHO project scientist. “This discovery highlights the value of data collected over 20 years ago and the exceptional performance of SOHO.”

More information:

“SWAN/SOHO Lyman-alpha mapping: the Hydrogen Geocorona extends well beyond the Moon” by I. Baliukin et al is accepted in Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics: https://doi.org/10.1029/2018JA026136

Related links:

ESA’s SOHO home page: http://sohowww.estec.esa.nl/

The Sun now: http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Science/The_Sun_now

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/Markus Bauer/Bernhard Fleck/Laboratoire Atmosphères, Milieux, Observations Spatiales (LATMOS)/Jean-Loup Bertaux/Space Research Institute/Russian Academy of Science/Igor Baliukin/NASA/SOHO/SWAN; I. Baliukin et al (2019)/ATG medialab; Sun: ESA/NASA SOHO, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO.

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Полет на параплане с обрыва на мысу Куяльницкого лимана, соленого озера. Экстремальный развлекательный полет проводится для любителей. ...